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Mantel’s Cromwell comes to BBC screens

The BBC announced yesterday that filming will begin next year on a six part series based on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  The broadcaster has acquired the rights to the novel and the sequel Bring up the Bodies – which means they already have their eyes on another mini series further down the line.

I admit to mixed feelings about this – it’s a welcome signal that the BBC is returning to what was a core strength for many decades, producing quality drama. If they achieve the standards of their recent Hollow Crown series based on some of Shakespeare’s history plays, we will be in for a great experience.

But I can’t help feeling nervous about the project. It’s so easy to get it wrong with historical dramas especially with ones based on such a larger than life cast of characters. Judge it right and the result is mesmerising (remember the Six Wives of Henry VIII or Glenda Jackson’s Elizabeth series?) but the temptation is to treat the Tudor court like some modern day version of Dynasty (I shudder at the memory of the US series The Tudors).

The other challenge is the ease with which they can translate Mantel’s imaginative approach to the screen. Cromwell’s rise to the centre of government from his humble beginnings, and his central role in one of the most colourful of periods in British history, certainly makes for a fascinating story. But what made Mantel’s novel unique is the way she tells the story from inside Cromwell’s consciousness. Without that, Wolf Hall could easily have become just another historic drama about the period. Conveying that on screen seems nigh on impossible.

But then I’m not a tv producer so can so easily be proved wrong. I hope so..

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